WASHINGTON — The White House released a long-awaited U.S. national space transportation policy Nov. 21 that calls for increased competition to launch government missions and encourages the use of hosted payloads.

Specifically, the new policy language no longer explicitly requires the Defense Department to fund the annual fixed costs of launch services providers. 

The previous version of the policy, released in 2004, called for funding “the annual fixed costs for both launch service providers,” referring to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The companies have since merged their government launch businesses to create the United Launch Alliance (ULA) joint venture.

ULA currently is paid via two contracts: Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Services, which covers the hardware and services associated with individual launches; and EELV Launch Capability, which covers infrastructure and various other activities. 

Critics have charged that the EELV Launch Capability payments, totaling about $1 billion annually, amount to a subsidy for ULA.

As part of its EELV program, the Air Force is negotiating the purchase, on a sole-source basis, of up to 36 rocket cores over five years from ULA. The service plans to competitively award an additional 14 missions to give new entrants such as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. a chance to break into the national security launch market.

“U.S. commercial space transportation capabilities that demonstrate the ability to launch payloads reliably will be allowed to compete for United States Government missions on a level playing field, consistent with established interagency new entrant certification criteria,” the new policy said.

The new policy also calls for the expanded use of hosted payload and other ride-sharing opportunities. 

“Space activities are critical to the Nation’s technological advancement, scientific discovery, security, and economic growth,” the publicly released version of the policy said. “It is essential that the United States foster more efficient and capable space transportation systems and approaches that can address such challenges and enable new activities and discoveries in and from space.” 

The White House’s goals include maintaining a space transportation industrial base, improving the safety and performance of U.S. space transportation capabilities, fostering commercial spaceflight capabilities, enabling human space transportation to the international space station and developing a deep-space-capable transportation system.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...